“A Cinematic History in GIFs” is a weekly feature in which we take a quotidian act – be it riding a bike or brushing your teeth – and observe characters’ changing (and unchanging) habits across a whole century of cinema, through imprisoning each of them in a GIF for eternity. As Shirley Bassey says, it's all just a little bit of history repeating.
This week we’re looking at characters brushing their teeth. It’s a familiar scene that can be seen in every genre throughout cinema’s storied history, whether a character is lost in vacant-eyed rumination or oblivious to the impending threat of a butcher’s knife held just out of frame. The act itself, meanwhile, is a daily routine we’ve been doing ever since evolution gave us opposable thumbs. And as you can see, not much has changed in 100 years, save for the introduction of the electric toothbrush. Which just goes to show how increasingly lazy we’ve become. Now hand me my beer, Ronnie Robot.
Old Acquaintance (1943)
"Brusher, brusher, brusher. Here's the new Ipana, with a brand new flavour. It's dandy for your teeeeeth." So goes the hyperactive Bucky Beaver ad for Ipana as referenced in Grease, and which soundtracks Bette Davis brushing her teeth in this clip from the little-seen 40s classic, Old Acquaintance.
The More the Merrier (1943)
In this creepy scene from George Stevens' World War II comedy, a pigtailed Jean Arthur scrubs away while a strange old man sneaks up on her via the bathroom window, with his newspaper. What’s he planning to do: read her the headlines?
Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
Audrey Hepburn is actually kind of irritating in Breakfast at Tiffany's, an extremely overrated early 60s film. I mean, with those wide eyes and that erratic, high-as-a-kite behaviour, she practically gave birth to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope.
Better Off Dead... (1985)
Who said men can’t multi-task? Here’s young John Cusack, toothbrush in mouth, cotton swab in ear, AND, he’s only using one hand. Not sure what he’s doing with the other one, mind you.
Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)
Pee-wee Herman is brushing his teeth with a horse’s toothbrush because Pee-wee Herman is a strange, kooky man. I mean, only a strange, kooky man wears a red bowtie, right? Right.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
Ace Ventura is violently scrubbing his teeth/washing his mouth out because, as it turns out, Ace Ventura unwittingly kissed a man. Which is bad news for him because, as it turns out, Ace Ventura is a massive transphobe.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Brushing your teeth is never just about brushing your teeth. Usually it’s about one of two things: it’s either a time to stare yourself out in the mirror and think profound thoughts like 'will I ever see that school friend again before I die?' Or, it’s a time to socialize; to have a deep chat with your housemate while making weird shapes with your mouth. Here, Bruce Willis’ bob-coiffed French girlfriend illustrates the latter.
Bring it On (2000)
When it comes to flirting, the guy on the right is unbearably smug and self-assured. And yet he used to be so cool, as the computer-obsessed, dungaree-sporting Joey in Hackers. Now he's just some suburban schmuck with a crush on a vacuous cheerleader called Torrance.
Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
A V-neck shirt is something that absolutely cannot go unmentioned.
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
And we’ll finish on Lisa Cholodenko’s ultra modern suburban scene: a lesbian couple brushing their teeth with hers and hers battery-powered electric toothbrushes while deep in conversation. Teeth-cleaning as couple’s therapy.
Follow Oliver on Twitter: @OliverLunn
More cinematic histories in GIFs...
Girls with Guns
Dudes on Bikes